The Origins of Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago

Trinidadians have always worried about the future of their carnival because quite naturally, they feel that the death of their national treasure would somehow signal the end of life in Trinidad. “Trinidad without carnival is widely improbable, even unthinkable. What Trinidadians really worry about is not the death of carnival but that it will change into something else, something which they longer recognise” (Peter Mason, Bacchanal,1998). Therefore, in order to understand the meaning of this festival, one must look at acculturation, cultural assimilation and cultural persistence. Also necessary is the historical, social, cultural and political background gave birth to this national celebration.

The roots of carnival both lay in Africa and France (Liverpool, 57). According to Milla C.Riggio, “embedded in the roots of carnival is essentially the history of the people of Trinidad their stories of conquest, enslavement, resistance and indentureship. Trinidad carnival emerges as much from the mythology as from the history of the island. Documentary records, enmeshed in varieties of cultural mythos, weave an evolutionary narrative that merges two parallel festivals: first, that imported from Europe, primarily by French creole planters and including the fancy English governor’s carnival balls, together with some street masking of elite and possibly plebeian participation; second, that which emerged from the African creole emancipation ritual that came to be known as cannes brulees (canboulay)”.

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Carnival does not seem to have attained any importance in Trinidad until the arrival of French Catholic planters in 1783, almost 300 years after the arrival of Columbus. Trinidad is a unique island in that it was one of the island that was never completely dominated by slavery. Trinidad was discovered by Columbus in 1498 and the island was ruled by Spain for virtually 300 years and remained one of her most ‘underdeveloped’ American po…